To the moon? It starts with Manu Ginobili


Ginobili Game 3

“From now on we live in a world where man has walked on the moon. And it’s not a miracle; we just decided to go.”

-Tom Hanks, Apollo 13

Tonight begins the daunting and improbable task of making NBA history. Every ounce of statistical analysis and reason dictates that this series is over, and it probably is.

It seems surreal, but was it only a week ago that we were discussing curses and the Phoenix Suns history of glorious failures against the San Antonio Spurs? After twin collapses in Game 2 and Game 3, any shred of doubts that once existed in the Suns minds were improbably wiped away by Goran Dragic.

But even as most of us have accepted the logical conclusion of this series as an inevitability, Phoenix Suns head coach Alvin Gentry strives to keep his team grounded in reality.

“There was a situation where there wasn’t a man who ever walked on the moon either,” said Gentry.

Down 0-3, Gregg Popovich and the San Antonio Spurs face the basketball equivalent of reaching the moon with nothing but a few bottle rockets to work with. Given the way the series has gone, Game 4 and any other elimination game the Spurs face will not be about adjustments, but rather, pride–and Manu Ginobili igniting a fire under their collective asses.

If these Western Conference Semi-Finals are about to embark upon a lunar adventure then, to borrow loosely from Neil Armstrong, it’s going to take one small step for the San Antonio Spurs (winning Game 4) and one giant leap for Manu Ginobili.

It might seem too simplistic an analysis, given that the Spurs pick-and-roll defense is springing leaks faster than they can plug them, depth is non-existent and Tim Duncan has declined defensively just enough that teams can attack him with smaller lineups. But this series is all on Manu Ginobili.

Understand, the San Antonio Spurs will not lose this series because of Manu Ginobili; it’s hard to find fault or failure in 22 points and seven assists a night. But it’s not like these flaws are just emerging, they were simply buried beneath the brilliant 3-month stretch of play from Ginobili.

These Spurs are, and always were, an extremely flawed team whose presence among the elite is entirely contingent upon Manu Ginobili’s sheer will and ability to perform as a top-five impact player. Or, Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant without the other worldly athleticism.

But as well as he has played, it has not been enough.

It’s hard to connect broken noses with broken shooting percentages–since out of all the things that must be lined up correctly for a fundamental jump shot, the nose is rarely mentioned–but the numbers don’t lie, as our own Andrew McNeil point out.

Entering Game 3, Ginobili was shooting to the tune of 27-77 from the field, a slump-worthy 35%, since breaking his nose in the Spurs’ first round series against the Dallas Mavericks.

Give some credit to the Phoenix Suns defense, who have found ways to prevent Ginobili and Tony Parker from getting the at-the-rim-layups they are accustomed to. Even as Manu Ginobili lit up the third quarter of Game 3, his 27 points were as empty as 27 points can possibly be–owed more to a jump shot catching fire than Ginobili having his way with the defense.

Part of the problem is the pick-and-roll coverage the Phoenix Suns have employed, picking up from where the Dallas Mavericks left off. Alvin Gentry is situating a defender on each side of the screen before it set, showing absolutely no regard for the screener and discouraging any bit of dribble penetration.

The simple solution would theoretically be to have the big man slip the screen and head straight for the front of the rim, but the Spurs face two problems executing this tactic. First, because Phoenix, like Dallas, has elected to put length on Ginobili, this is not the simplest pass to make. Manu is averaging nearly four turnovers a game.

Second, Tim Duncan’s lost step makes it hard for him to elude the help defender waiting for him. The counter to this would normally be to pass the ball to the spot vacated by the help defender, normally the corner three-pointer. But because George Hill has struggled and Richard Jefferson does not bother to even spot up there, it’s no longer an option.

Remember that Superman cape Jefferson was holding for Manu Ginobili during the regular season? He’s now pulling him down by it like a weighted sack of Kryptonite.

Earlier in the season I wrote of the transformative effects a healthy Manu Ginobili has on the San Antonio Spurs defense.

If you have to account for a player at all times, every pass, every spin move, even every outlet pass is slowed a fraction of a second while an offensive player checks for a lurking Ginobili (and with the way he has played the past few weeks, you’re really going to want to check for a lurking Ginobili).

That little extra bit of hesitation is often the difference between an uncontested shot and a turnover in the NBA. The renewed aggressiveness on the boards by Manu also leads to quicker transition opportunities. Both lead to easy baskets and a running game that extends beyond the one-man fast break that has been Tony Parker.

The block on Kevin Garnett. The block on Kevin Durant. Stealing an inbounds pass from the Boston Celtics a season ago. Most of Manu Ginobili’s game-changing defensive plays are risks that work only because he is the lone Spur who operates outside of its system.

No longer true. After last game Richard Jefferson spoke of blowing defensive assignments, opening up three-point opportunities for the scorching hot Jason Richardson. Ginobili does not gamble defensively so much as he takes calculate risks. Without the proper rotations behind him, Ginobili is more apt to stay at home on Richardson.

While Ginobili is a good defender under such circumstances, and capable of running the pick-and-roll as a facilitator, it is hardly the role that makes him special. Which is what Gregg Popovich needs him to be.

For every game the San Antonio Spurs escape elimination, they will need Manu Ginobili to be the clearcut best player on the court.

Because if the Spurs are to make history, if they are to make it to the moon, it will be because their star shines brightest.

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  • Dr. Love

    Forget it. It’s over. Suns in five. See ya next year.

  • jeff


    Go Spurs Go!

  • Bushka

    Lovely article.

    If you were ever looking to create a legacy as a player these are the moments that define.

    Go spurs Go Manu Go

  • lvmainman

    6 missed opportunities in the paint in the 1st qtr!!

    Parker – missed layup
    Jefferson – missed reverse layup
    Duncan – turnover for a layup
    Ginobili – floater – charge
    Blair – missed layup
    Hill – end of qtr floater missed

    Spurs suck so far making easy shots.

  • lvmainman

    6 turnovers and Dragic drawing more fouls than Duncan and Ginobili combined in this game. Apparently, anyone who initiates contact will get a foul call. So, run into someone and flop backwards like the Suns!!

  • pablo

    as insurmountable as coming back is, it is possible. but all Spurs need to play well. i love Manu and believe he plays with passion, but we need more than our Trio of Manu, Parker and Duncan. Phoenix’s role players have stepped up big time. i never thought it was true when people said Dallas and Phoenix had a better bench than we did. but it is sadly true.

    i’m hoping the Spurs dont’ go down without a fight, giving it their all. as for offseason moves, i sure hope Parker is not dealt for depth. Parker is playing despite injuries and even though many fans question whether him, i do believe he is a team player and puts the team first. heck, he came off the bench and not once complained. He’s taken a backseat in spotlight, yet keeps playing hard.

  • Jim Henderson


    Looks like Spurs may be packing it in. You can’t turn the ball over 11 times in the first half of an elimination game against the Phoenix Suns and expect to do anything other than get the fishing poles out.

  • lvmainman

    Finally, Spurs attacking in transition and off the pick and roll to make some shots.

    Nash stuck his face into Duncan’s elbow in order to draw a foul and the referees didn’t fall for the trick.

  • Bushka

    Manu is 1 from 5 from deep and is also the only starter to even attempt a 3.

    Bonners 2 of 2…and thats it.

    No other three point attempt on the entire team.

    It’s like bizzaro world, where the spurs don’t shoot threes.

  • Eric

    That intentional foul on Lou Amundson cost them momentum. They had finally got the lead and then they gave it up right away.

  • Trade Tp

    BOnner and Pop should jump off a cliff. Grab on to mason when they jump too

  • Bushka

    There you have it…Blair getting abused in the P&R…

    We have not goat a freaking option at the 4 that works.

  • Colin

    Lay-ups and free throws………we’ve not capitalized on these enough in this series to warrant a chance………put Blair in this category as well. I know we all love his potential and he has proven his worth as a player to invest in. But he needs work and has simply proven he can’t be a consistent scorer in the paint against the Suns (this 4th game included).

    My hats off to the Suns. I didn’t think they could beat the Spurs 4/7, let alone sweep them. This IS their championship. Let’s see what they do against the Lakers……….

    on to next season

  • Bushka

    Hats off to los Suns Steve Nash is a freak.

  • jay thatch

    lv mainman, looks like the the spurs finally rubbed off on the suns.

  • Patrick M

    It was a one eyed man that took down the Spurs in the 4th quarter! He had a nashty cut over one eye, but that didn’t stop him! A freakin’ one-eyed man!

  • los suns

    we finally got one and feels so good!!!!!!!! but why do the spurs allways bloody up steve nash…. and no nash didnt go into duncan elbow… it didn’t work this year….like past years…. and i still think the refs where mostly on the spurs side…. the fouls the refs called on the spurs where to obivious and they had to call them , the SUNS are just a better overall team….

  • Jim Henderson

    Blair …….. needs work and has simply proven he can’t be a consistent scorer in the paint against the Suns (this 4th game included).”

    No 21 year old player at this level is going to be consistent at 6 minutes a game. NONE! Do you take Manu out after he bricks his first 3 shots in his first 6 minutes on the floor? No, and he’s an experienced, star player. But you want to jerk a 21 yr. old rookie with talent, Blair, out of the game for a couple of mistakes (missed put-backs, whatever) every 5-6 minutes? If so, you’re not going to develop him very fast. And we NEED to develop him fast!

    Look at what Gentry has done with Dragic. Dragic had some god-awful games in stretches for the Suns this year, but Gentry usually kept him in to finish out his consistent number of minutes in the rotation. That’s how you build confidence in a young player. Pop simply did not do a great job in this area this year. Blair was often yanked too quickly, even when he was playing pretty well. In my view, Pop undervalued Blair’s importance to the team, particularly during the second half of the year. In fact, he may have even played him less in the second half of the year. Instead, he should have been grooming him to assume an important role in our playoff run, but obviously he had him penciled in for just a basic auxiliary role in the playoffs by the all-star break (mainly just to give TD some rest – THAT’S IT!).

    You don’t develop a player by not playing him. Blair’s “mistakes”, or even foul troubles, were not that frequent that we could not have possibly played him anymore than we did, in many situations. In addition, Pop, and some fans on here, appear to put Blair’s weaknesses under a magnifying glass, and tend to take his very real & unique strengths for granted. I’m sorry, but Blair’s main problem in this series was a lack of playing time. It’s as simple as that. If we played him more we would have gotten a much larger net return, in my view. And believe me, I’m not saying we would have won the series if Blair played 20, 30, 40 minutes a game. But that’s not the point. The point is, he’s is a BIG part of our future, and we need to develop him now! I think he’s more than ready for the challenge. And you don’t most effectively challenge him by asking him to collect slivers in his ass in most games! It seems as though the entire organization still doesn’t quite get that we don’t have the luxury any more of having the big three, all IN THEIR PRIME, so that we can afford to be more deliberate in the development of our young players. That era is over, and has been for 2 years. Lets get MOVING forward in making it a PRIORITY to DEVELOP our YOUNG players. Okay?!

    P.S. I agree, Nash has ALWAYS been a gutty competitor. If anyone deserves a shot at reaching the finals this year, it would be him. Good luck to the Suns! They most likely will have the unenviable task of taking out the Goliath’s from LA.

  • Trade Tp

    Jim Henderson: Great Post, but we all know its POPS MO to sign old washed up players, and play them with those who SUCK

  • Colin


    I didn’t say DON’T PLAY BLAIR. I was simply pointing out that we weren’t gonna beat the Suns with Blair missing 5 lay-ups/game (every basket counts with this yr’s Spurs team). Combine that with the fact that Stoudemire OWNED him on the defensive end and it was a recipe for a learning experience. That was my point. If he would have played more we probably would have lost by more, McDyess was having a better series in my opinion.

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